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A letter from Tracey King-Ortega in Nicaragua
I wasn’t prepared for this. How is it that a place where I’ve been living over a decade no longer feels like home? Everything around me seems grungy and worn down: the trash strewn about, the children begging at stoplights, our leaky roof. After nearly six months in the U.S., I know I’ve been spoiled. Living with my mom again was luxurious, and now, back in Nicaragua, all I see is what is wrong with the place. It feels as if just about everything is harder here. I’ve traveled back and forth between Central America and U. S. often as regional liaison, so I’m surprised at how hard this transition has been. In my first weeks back, now with my two-year-old and newborn twins to care for, the burdens of daily life here have been overwhelming.
I feel as if I’m experiencing Nicaragua for the first time, again. When we first experience the third world, our initial response tends to see only the deficiencies, what’s wrong, what’s missing or what needs fixing. I see that kind of approach with mission teams all the time. It is with the best of intentions, wanting to make things better, but looking at it through our “first-world” lenses, we tend to judge.
But then when we’ve dedicated ourselves to a place and a people, been there awhile, developed relationships with the people, and gotten used to the rhythms and idiosyncrasies of daily life, we then begin to see the strengths of that place, the unique gifts it has to offer and how our lives are enriched because of it.Continue reading
A letter from Burkhard Paetzold in Germany
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 19-21).
The peace of Christ be with you all in this Advent and Christmas season and in the year to come.
Let me first and foremost thank you for all your prayers and support in 2013. It’s your faithfulness and hope that gave me encouragement. Many donated generously to my ministry. Now is the time for me to thank you very much.
When I came to visit the Swiss Reformed Aid organization HEKS recently (to talk about further collaboration) I noticed a poster at the train station saying, “Give to your father-in-law a goat (and give the gift of help to small farmers in Bangladesh).” HEKS has a catalog of gifts from chickens to outhouses, from heating material to land ownership, that help those in need.Continue reading
A letter from Doug Dicks in Jordan
Dear Family and Friends,
How do you take eighteen years of a life, and condense it into a few boxes? That is the process I am going through these days, as I sort through papers, books, photos, cd's, cards, letters, and the like.
Not an easy task, as many of you know!
As the pictures come down from the walls, the cupboards emptied, the furniture sold off and carted away, the boxes sealed, and I look around at an empty apartment, I am reminded once again of what servitude is about; for to empty ourselves and our lives of worldly goods and possessions allows us to be opened up to the endless possibilities of good that God has in store for each and every one of us.
As I prepare to leave the Middle East, I am left with the feeling that there is so much more left to be done. Yet a quote from the biblical mishna, which has hung on my refrigerator door for years, has served as a guideline – and a reflection of my own, personal convictions as well – these many years: “It is not your task to complete the job of perfecting the world, but neither are you free to desist from it” (Pirke Avot 2:21 - “Ethics of the Fathers”).Continue reading
A letter from Jo Ella Holman, regional liaison for the Caribbean region, on home leave
“I didn’t know why God wanted this school here.” That’s what the Dean of the Nursing School said when I talked with her this fall in Haiti. Hilda Alcindor lived in the U.S. for 30 years, part of the Haitian diaspora. She is a registered nurse and a former officer in the US military. She was doing just fine with her life in the US, when God called her through a medical doctor and member of First Presbyterian, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Dr. Young was convinced that a nursing school was what God wanted in Haiti. He had been coming to Haiti for years, working out of Hôpital Ste. Croix in Léogâne, and had witnessed the shortage of quality nursing care. Through a partnership that included the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti (a long-time partner of the PCUSA’s World Mission), the Medical Benevolence Foundation (MBF), which raises money for Presbyterian medical mission, and individuals and congregations of the PC(USA), a dream became a reality in 2005—the only four-year, baccalaureate-degree nursing program in Haiti and with Dean Hilda at its head.Continue reading
A letter from Esther Wakeman in Thailand
On Monday mornings after worship, the chaplaincy staff of the Office of Spiritual and Community Life at Payap University here in Chiang Mai, Thailand, get together for our “cell group” time. I introduced the group to “Immanuel Prayer.” It starts with gratitude—remembering a time when we felt particularly close to God, and sharing that memory with a friend, and then praying and thanking God in detail for God’s goodness in that past experience. This usually helps us connect emotionally and spiritually to God, at which point we can open ourselves further to God’s presence by asking Jesus if there is anything he would like to help us with at the moment, and then noticing whatever comes into our awareness and talking it over with him.
As I remembered with gratitude God’s goodness that morning, and felt connected to God, and asked Jesus to show me anything he wanted to help me with, our chaplain came to mind, along with some disappointment I’d felt toward him. I brought our relationship to Jesus and asked him to show me Rev. Mana’s heart.Continue reading
A letter from Nadia Ayoub in Ukraine
“Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done; sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.” Psalm 105:1
Dear friends and family,
I greet you with the peace of Christ the Lord. With the Psalmist, I give thanks to the Lord our God for he is good and his love for us endures forever. I rejoice at many of God’s wonderful acts in 2013, and I thank you for your active partnership with your prayers and financial support.
Thank God, I came back from six weeks of interpretation assignment (IA) in the USA. I visited three churches; two were new for me, and it was amazing to see how the Lord has kept for himself faithful Presbyterians who are truly serving the Lord locally, and still have the desire to serve him more globally as far as Karpatlja- Ukraine among the Roma people. That is where I was sent by the Presbyterian World Mission to work alongside with the Reformed church in Ukraine. Lord willing again on January 2014,I will come back to the USA for more of (IA) time to visit with your congregations and share what the Lord has been doing among the Roma people because of your prayers and financial support.Continue reading
A letter from Jonathan Seitz in Taiwan
Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love
Christmas in Taiwan is a refraction of several traditions. It’s not uncommon to hear Christmas music in a store in, say, July, but decorations come out intentionally only in December. Shopping districts are more likely to have lights and tinsel now, but it’s still far less commercialized than in the US. If Santa appears, he’s usually much slimmer and speaks Mandarin. Where my nieces in the States learned a lot about Santa from friends (and had pretty high expectations), here he primarily visits malls and isn’t guaranteed to bring you anything on Christmas day. It’s never a white Christmas, and things are usually cool and wet in December.
A letter from Bernie and Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta on home assignment from Indonesia
It’s crisis makes reality, real,
Intensity, intense. -William Everson
Dear Family, Friends, and Colleagues,
How do we find or create meaning out of tragedy? Sometimes Americans ask me if it is dangerous to live in Indonesia. We have exotic dangers there, like active volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, mass violence, terrorism, pirates, elephants, tigers, huge spiders, little mosquitoes. The only ones that scare me are the mosquitoes. I’ve had dengue fever twice. Violent crime is rare where we live in Yogyakarta. I always thought that if I died unexpectedly in Indonesia it would be from a traffic accident. Those gentle Javanese are like wild cowboys when they drive. Motorcycles drive without lights at night, sometimes carrying whole families. There are huge potholes, chickens, old farmers on bicycles, no speed limits and hardly any signs to warn you of danger. “Right of way” is a foreign idea, and traffic lanes are just for show. People drive like a school of fish. The little fish just move out of the way of the big guys. In Indonesia, you stay alert at the wheel or you die. After returning to the US a friend wrote: “I miss driving with you in Indonesia. Driving in America is so boring.”
A letter from Dennis Smith in Argentina (Regional liaison for Brazil and Southern Cone)
As you celebrate Thanksgiving this week, this is a special note to ask for your prayers.
On Dec. 3 Maribel will have surgery here in Buenos Aires to remove her thyroid. A couple of weeks ago a biopsy indicated that she has a small malignant tumor on her thyroid that requires prompt treatment. Thankfully, Maribel currently experiences no discomfort and is facing the surgery with equanimity. This is quite a common procedure, and the prognosis is excellent for a full and prompt recovery. The treatment should require no more than one night in the hospital.
We are glad to report that we have access to excellent medical care here and that the insurance coverage provided for us by Presbyterian World Mission is excellent.
As always, your prayers are a source of solace and strength.
A letter from César Carhuachín in Colombia
Late FAll 2013
Greetings from Barranquilla City, Atlantic Department, Colombia,
I want to begin this letter by giving thanks to God for God´s mission in Colombia and your involvement in that mission. Particularly, for the ministry of our church partner the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, which is sharing the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This church is worshiping God in several creative ways. For example, on Sunday, October 27th I was preaching about “The Women and the Bible and Society” at “Comunidad El Camino” Presbyterian Church while at the other side of the city, a group of children was leading the worship service at “Seventh Presbyterian Church.” This church is serving the poor and several displaced communities around the country, which are victims of the structural violence. This church, through our Ecumenical partner, the Colombian Reformed University, is providing an accredited theological formation to many inquirers, candidates and pastors in the Christian ministry. The group of students comes from several denominations such as Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist and Pentecostal. I praise God for this ministry and for the opportunity of collaborating with them.Continue reading
A letter from Cesar Carhuachin in Colombia
Greetings from Barranquilla City, Atlantic Department!
Colombia has 32 Departments, and Barranquilla is located in the Atlantic Department (a little information about Colombia for my brothers and sisters in USA).
Thanks for the difference you are making in the mission work here in Colombia. Your partnership in God´s mission in Colombia through your encouraging notes, prayers and financial support are motives to praise God in my prayer time. It is amazing to me to see how well we are connected as members of the church of Christ. Thank God for our connectional system.
September has been an interesting month in my duties as professor at the School of Theology. It was a time for exams. The fact of having students with diverse backgrounds, different ages, from twenties to fifties, singles, married and grandfathers, some with previous theological educations and almost all of them full time workers, presents a challenge to me. I must to say that I have been personally impacted by their effort, willingness, openness and dedication. They are serious in their commitment to the theological education, and this inspires me to accompany them in this learning experience.Continue reading
A letter from Ryan and Alethia White prior to service in Germany
The very word conjures up a mix of emotions, some we can name and some we can’t, suggesting that life is not predictable in ways once thought, and the path ahead is not entirely known.
In the months since our summer orientation, we have gone from the long, lingering days of summer on the East Coast to the bold, blooming color and familiarity of southern California, a road trip up the West Coast, which culminated in Ryan’s ordination service in Seattle, and finally to our current location, Anchorage, Alaska where winter is setting in. The change in seasons reminds us that we are coming ever closer to our intended departure for Berlin in mid-January.
We didn’t realize, when we left our cozy cottage in Pasadena in July for orientation and some family time on the East Coast, that we wouldn’t be returning. Our suitcases were packed with summer clothing for a month away, and we’re living out of them still. While we were away at orientation, our property experienced a lead contamination that has yet to be cleaned up so that we can return to our house to safely pack up and ship out. We’re thankful we weren’t at home when it happened, but the frustration and stress it has caused means we often forget to be thankful. However, we are reminded of the benefits of living with less, and this experience will affect how we deal with what remains in our house.
A letter from Sharon Bryant in Thailand
When I completed my first year in Thailand, I wondered to myself (and to God) what I had taken on, and whether either of us was in our right minds when the decision to come to Thailand was made. (Yes, even missionaries question God’s sanity at times!) But when I took our new group of volunteers to the Grand Palace to begin to introduce them to Thai culture and customs, I saw a wonderful cadre of committed Christians, all eager to begin the adventure that God had called them to in this land. They are young, educated, loving, caring, scared and determined. Three of our new Christian Volunteers in Thailand (CVT) come from the United States of America, one from Great Britain, and four from Nagaland in India. Two are trained teachers. The rest are willing to serve as teachers for the next two years, in order to help young Thai children practice using the English language that they have learned in the classroom. But before they dive in and begin doing that, I spend three weeks with them in Bangkok and in Chiang Mai, reviewing some critical information that might make the difference between whether they survive or thrive in this foreign land.Continue reading
A letter from Elizabeth Turk in Madagascar
Greetings! October was a big month for Madagascar – the first round presidential election took place peacefully on October 25th – the first election since the coup d’état of 2009. The run-off presidential election and legislative elections are scheduled for December 20th.
Even as people await election results, Madagascar is still in the throes of the post-coup economic crisis. Life is very difficult for people. The United Nations latest report states that 92% of the people of Madagascar are living below the poverty line. A plague of locusts threatens much of the country. Many children did not return to school this year because their parents couldn’t afford to send them, leaving a lost generation of 1.5 million children out of school.
Where is the Fiangonan’i Jesoa Kristy eto Madagasikara (Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar or FJKM) in the midst of all of this? It is witnessing and trying to bring reconciliation. It is also continuing on with its work of evangelism and outreach. The fact that the FJKM church does not stop its ministry in the midst of crisis, but actually strengthens its ministries, gives hope to many.Continue reading
A letter from Liz Searles in Romania
Betting the Farm Luke 2:1-4
The generosity of the poor can offer an example to all of us.
When I was a struggling graduate student in Chicago, I thought I was poor--really poor. A Bolivian family lived in the one-bedroom apartment down the hall. The young boy slept on a cot behind the dining room buffet. Two girls shared the tiny bedroom, and Mom and Dad had the sleeper sofa.
They ate simply, yet invited me to many meals. They tithed 10% off the top (before expenses) at church. They worked intermittently and very hard, sent money to family in Bolivia, spent all day Sunday at church, and laughed a lot.
In Romania, too, strangers in the street invite me to fish dinners or a glass of palinca (Romanian home brew). Institutionalized children with nothing may hold out to me their special toy. At the meal following Bible study, each makes sure the rest get enough. No one seems to mind that the grown boys who do dock work all day get extra bread.Continue reading
A letter from Thomas Goetz in Japan
An interview with the Reverend Ai Akers, a newcomer to Sapporo from Nagasaki, where she and her husband pastored a church. Now in Sapporo, they will continue their ministry.
Tom Goetz: Good afternoon. It is good to be here today and to be able to share this time with you.
Ai Akers: Thank you. As you know, my name is Ai Akers. My husband Nick and I moved to Sapporo six months ago, and we are very happy to be here.
T: You are new to Sapporo. Where did you move from and what did you do?
A: When I served in a small church in Nagasaki, Nick and I met a man named Mr. Kubo there.
T: What was unique about him?
A: Mr. Kubo was in his late forties, early fifties, and worked for a company mostly carrying heavy metal beams, but he was in an accident, injuring both of his feet, and was not able to work after that.Continue reading
A letter from Bob Butterfield in Portugal
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Portugal (IEPP) is full of devoted, hard-working members, but it’s definitely a church in which victories are only partial and short-lived. All during the first nine months of 2013, the IEPP flirted with financial collapse as the current Executive Commission, which manages the IEPP’s affairs, struggled desperately to pay off the debts incurred by previous Executive Commissions. The worst of these debts was a $100,000 court judgment against the IEPP for illegally withholding a pastor’s salary. After fifteen months of tense negotiations between the Executive Commission’s (new) lawyer and the pastor’s lawyer, during which time the IEPP was in constant danger of having the court freeze its assets and effectively put it out of business, an agreement was finally reached at the eleventh hour. This was nothing short of a miracle and a great victory for the IEPP.Continue reading
A letter from Bob and Kristi Rice on home assignment from Congo
The sun was already getting hot as we trudged through the sand at 8 a.m. We were on our way to church at the Dikongayi parish in Kananga. Kids shouted excited greetings, and family members brushed teeth, bathed kids, or drank tea in preparation for heading to church. It was Christmas morning! We gathered with Pastor Mukendi, the choirs, and elders outside the church to say a prayer and receive last minute instructions. The service started, and people trickled in, packing the pews full and making room for the kids on the floor. The church has five choirs – women, men, mixed adults, youth, and children. They each sang with energy and precision, celebrating the birth of the savior. The choirs are a highlight of the service in Congo, and on this special day their songs reflected long hours of practice. The level of energy throughout the congregation was high, and worship was exuberant. With people packed in so tight, it got warm and kids got fussy, but the excitement and joy were palpable. What turned out to be a four-hour service seemed to go too quickly.Continue reading
A letter from Josh Hekkila West Africa regional liaison, in Ghana
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways.
- II Thessalonians 3:16 (NRSV)
During the month of October, I had the opportunity to travel through several presbyteries of our denomination as part of the International Peacemaking Program. I was together with one of our partners from Niger, the Rev. Sani Nomaou, who is president of the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger (which is widely known by its French initials, EERN).
Throughout our travels, Rev. Sani spoke about the work the EERN is doing in Niger in areas of health, education, and development. This is in addition to the evangelism of the church, their work to spread the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the population of the country. They have a difficult task at hand in all of these areas.Continue reading
A letter from Sharon Curry in the U.S., waiting to return to South Sudan
“What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.” - Agnes M. Pharo
This picture reminds me what a long road this journey has been. As it winds through the mountain, there seems to be no beginning and there seems to be no end. I often wonder how many times Jesus felt like that on his journey, except he went confident that God was with him each step of the way, and so do I.
Jesus’ beginning in a small stable in Bethlehem and his ending, crucified on a cross and walking again among his people, are reminders to me to never give up. God has a road for each of us, whether we can look back and see the beginning, or look forward and see the end.Continue reading
A letter from Dennis Smith in Argentina (Regional liaison for Brazil and Southern Cone)
Suddenly this whole Christmas thing – once again – is right around the corner. Bright lights, endless commotion. . .
The church calendar invites us to pause, take a deep breath, and see Christmas differently - as part of the season of Advent. Far from being the season for frivolity, our Christian tradition portrays Advent as a time to find within ourselves the patience to wait for God’s wholeness to be revealed in our lives and in all of creation.
Advent invites us to live in thankfulness, despite life’s messiness. Advent invites us to live out the hope born of what God is doing in our lives and in our world.
As I approach Advent this year, I remember a Sunday several weeks ago when I pinch-hit for a pastor friend so he and his wife could celebrate her birthday free of pastoral duties.
In my sermon, I focused on the passage in Luke 17 where Jesus tells of ten lepers asking to be healed. He promptly sends them – still leprous - to show themselves to the religious authorities. On the way, all ten were healed; only one – a Samaritan – returned to give thanks.Continue reading
A letter from Kari Nicewander in Zambia
This is Isaac. Isaac is adorable. Just plain straight up crazy cute. And he spends a lot of time at our house.
Yesterday, I was working from home, there were nine kids in the house, a pretty normal afternoon. The older boys were painting at the dining room table, some other kids were coloring, and others were playing foosball. (Yes, we have a foosball table in our home. It is a loan from very kind neighbors...)
Sitting at my desk, trying to write curriculum, I could hear the noise of the ball flying across the wooden stadium, children arguing over crayons, and the older kids, occasionally showing one another their creations. From time to time, one of the young artists would bring in a masterpiece for me to admire. Again, a pretty normal afternoon.Continue reading
A letter from Eric Hinderliter in Lithuania
Becky and I continue as classroom teachers at LCC International University in Klaipeda, Lithuania. Since I teach economics, I am drawn to the predictions of economists. The interesting question in economics is not so much what is happening now, but what will happen in the future. Many see our times as an age of the "economics of superstars" and “winner take all markets” in which machines talk to machines in the “Internet of things.” In a new and widely noted book, Average is Over (2013), economist Tyler Cowen examines how the growing power of artificial intelligence embodied in machines is changing labor markets by dramatically affecting wages and incomes. Cowen predicts that people with the right skills will complement smart machines and become very good at making all sorts of decisions in business and in life. Less adept people with the wrong skills will do poorly. His prediction is stark: society will become a "hypermeritocracy" in which an elite 15 percent will be richly rewarded for their adeptness in harnessing technology but the remaining 85 percent will be consigned to a precarious existence. Their wages will stagnate; few get a second chance at success. The "right" skills in today’s world command a premium wage.
A letter from Ruth Brown in Congo
Life to you! And Merry Christmas!
While I was in Kerrville, Texas, a few weeks ago, Congo and America’s “South” suddenly became one in the Spirit. I experienced the thrill of these nations joining together in God’s presence when the usual calm of a Sunday morning worship service in the South was suddenly punctuated with absolutely thrilling, stirring (and loud!) DRUMBEATS during the morning anthem! What good news transpired through this joyful music!
The love of Christ, as powerful and as pervasive as a drumbeat, unites us as partners in mission. Traveling all over the USA this fall, I found many Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) members working to address critical global initiatives of the PC(USA)’s World Mission: evangelism, sharing the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ, and working to eliminate the root causes of poverty.Continue reading
A letter from Katie Griffin in Argentina
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. Isaiah 9: 2
“The image in Genesis 1 of the Spirit (or wind, or breath) of God moving over the primordial chaos, readying to birth order and wonder in creation, is a powerful image for me of how the Lord is stirring in our midst to give birth to new life in the future” (Steve Plank, Cayuga-Syracuse Presbytery, presbytery e-circular, “Monday in Ministry” Oct. 28, 2013).
Here in Argentina, the themes of light and hope flourish at this time of year. Spring is upon us. Even though there remains a ton of work to do before the year closes, the longer days and the promise of life renewed make it easier to breathe. Literally, the darkness is falling behind us, and the promise of summer fun and sun is before us. Halleluiah!!!
The words from my home presbytery, above, poetically express the search and hope for life and order in the midst of what sometimes seems like chaos in a dark, struggling world.
Where have we been this year?
Personally, I have embarked upon the writing of my doctoral thesis, and I am about half way through now. To speak honestly, and in the sense of a prayer request, teaching, travelling, studying, raising a family, have taken their toll on my body, mind and spirit. I had a minor throat surgery in July after about three years of working with an endocrinologist to figure out why I was having problems with kidney stones. Once I recovered from the surgery, I had the shingles for about five weeks. These are minor health problems, but they alert me to the reality that the human being is a frail creature. By God’s grace, nothing worse has happened, and by God’s grace, I am learning to slow down, take life one day at a time, and not try to insist on deadlines. If I can walk by God’s grace, my thesis will get done. If I continue to insist on my own will power, my body will continue to break down. God’s grace is the light of my life, whereas I am my own darkness.Continue reading
A letter from Christi Boyd in the Congo
My husband died at the Congo border. When I received word about his death, I dropped what I was doing and traveled there. But upon my return home two weeks later, I found that my in-laws had taken all that my husband had left me. I was stripped of everything; we didn’t have even a stool to sit on. They started to harass me and wanted to chase me out of our house but thanks to mediation efforts by the church, I was allowed to stay and raise my children. (View a short video of testimonies by Congolese widows about their experiences with this cultural phenomenon.)
Last November, I heard one widow after the other share about her ordeal. I was back in the Congo for the first time in fifteen years to discern with Jeff the question our Presbyterian World Mission colleagues had brought before us: Would we consider relocating to this country from which we had evacuated twice with our three young children?Continue reading
Thank You and Your Family for serving God by taking His word so far from Your Home.
God is doing his work and using us a tools in other nations.during my working here in Athens i observed that there are many oppertunities to share the Gospel massage with other those do not know Jesus and we can bring them to Jesus Christ.Please prayer for me that i'm a very littel to that God is using me here in Athens Greece. God bless you.